The Blog

Incremental Escalation, Part III

4:58 PM, Jul 10, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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When President Obama first announced his Afghan strategy, John McCain warned that the failure to commit enough troops to the fight would inevitably lead to a "Lyndon Johnson-style" incremental escalation. Indeed, in early June the Pentagon "quietly" sent an additional 1,000 special operations troops to Afghanistan "to bolster a larger conventional troop buildup" that was already well underway. And now today comes a report from the Washington Post that General McChrystal has concluded that,

...Afghan security forces will have to expand far beyond currently planned levels if President Obama's strategy for winning the war there is to succeed, according to senior military officials.

Such an expansion would require additional billions beyond the $7.5 billion the administration has budgeted annually to build up the Afghan army and police over the next several years, and the likely deployment of thousands more U.S. troops as trainers and advisers, officials said.

The president had to know this was coming. There was no reason to doubt General McKiernan's estimate of the number of troops that would be necessary to get the job done -- an estimate that Obama choose to ignore for reasons that were obviously political. And as was the case during the Bush administration, allowing domestic politics to dictate force levels in a conflict is a recipe for disaster -- and escalation. If this causes a "whiskey tango foxtrot moment" at the White House, Obama will have no one to blame but himself.